I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Heidi Hewett‘s reflection on the contemplative practice of doing puzzles:
I have a variety of spiritual practices I use either daily or throughout my week: lectio divina, centering prayer, creativity, silence, and walking meditation, but one thing I am adopting into my “when I need it” spiritual practice toolbox is doing puzzles.
Normally, I do not choose to do a puzzle, which is why I felt a divine nudge with this particular experience—and how it turned into an opportunity for contemplative practice. I found a beautiful puzzle six years ago, but at the time my boys were very little, and I knew doing a puzzle would bring me frustration instead of release. Since then I have looked lightly for this colorful puzzle of bookshelves filled with books that have come to life–somewhat organized by color and title and creature. This puzzle drew me in the moment I saw it, as I am an avid reader. I figured that if I ever found this puzzle, it would be the only one I’d do; not realizing it would come to me when I would need the quiet meditation the most.
My high school English teacher passed away on Christmas Eve, and I found I needed to mourn her passing. She sustained me in ways I do not think she ever knew, and she taught me lessons that I am still thankful for. She took my love of reading and gave it legs. I attribute much of my professional life choices to her. A few days after I heard the news of her passing, I stumbled upon the puzzle—the puzzle I had been searching for and did not realize how long I had been searching for it. It seemed like the perfect puzzle to celebrate the life of my teacher.
I purchased it and cleared a space on our dining room table to do this puzzle. Over the next few weeks both of my sons and my husband sat beside me at different times and talked, found pieces with me, discussed favorite books and things we have learned that have changed us, we shared our sadnesses, but mostly I did this puzzle alone. I processed my grief through the ability to sit in silence, use my hands to gather pieces, to fit them into an unfolding picture, and to not think.
The process took as long as it needed to take—both the puzzle and the tangible part of the mourning process. I was in no rush. After I traveled back home for my teacher’s memorial service in the middle of January, I gave myself time to complete the puzzle upon my return.
The puzzle was an amazing physical representation of how I felt inside as it related to the grieving process. At first it felt daunting: all of these pieces were to find a home and to form a complete picture. How would I ever do that? Next, once I had the border in place, I had a glimmer of hope that I could do this thing: both the puzzle and the grieving. I felt a little sadness as the puzzle started to take shape—knowing it would end at some point, yet I was excited for the end result, too; especially at being able to use our dining room table in its entirety again. I began to feel excitement over moving on and doing something else with my hands and heart.
I found so much solace in sorting over individual pieces, touching them, relocating them, sifting through them, organizing them. Once I was done, I had intimate knowledge of how each part added to the whole, and that healed me, too.
On a Saturday in February, I woke up knowing that that was the day to complete the puzzle. I pictured myself sitting alone with the sunlight streaming in through the window and fit the last pieces in place. What ended up happening was my children and my husband gathered around and we finished the puzzle together. What a beautiful reminder of the role of community in healing. How wonderful it was for my sons and husband to contribute to what they’d mostly watch me do for several weeks alone. What a beautiful celebration of grief.
While I was working on the puzzle, I didn’t know if I would frame it or put it back in its box. It was so freeing not to know and not to need to know. I knew that I’d figure it out once it was time. This sounds so unlike me, but I had time to sit with the not knowing and to make peace with it.
I found that the gift of putting a puzzle together is a contemplative practice that allowed me to be present and to process my sadness in such a way, that I feel more centered. I was able to slow down and allow Wisdom to sit with me and to heal me. Spiritual practices, in general, nourish me and connect me to the Creator by slowing me down and helping me to process each moment as it comes—to learn to be by being. I make peace with so many things in my life that need to be grieved and processed when I live from a place of contemplation. Living contemplatively through a puzzle was not about sadness, but about solace. It was full of redemption.
I will not hesitate to bring out this puzzle when my heart feels the pull to do so. Having a different activity waiting for me when I need a different kind of slow is just the ticket to living a full life—at least I think so. I think my family’s practice of slowing down and supporting our spiritual health has changed with the art of putting this puzzle together. I have to admit, we have opened our hearts for another puzzle, but we are patiently waiting to see which one it will be.
Heidi Hewett is a Transformational Life Coach and Women’s Circle Facilitator at *heidi at heartspace* in Athens, Georgia. She loves supporting women with finding sustainable spiritual practices. She lives with her family and two cats in a brick home that is also home to many books.